Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox finally unleash the beloved original Star Wars trilogy on DVD in this packed box set sure to heat up retailers' shelves and home systems everywhere. All three films have been remastered in their Special Edition forms and have been given a face-lift for the digital age with literally the most stunning picture and sound quality the films have ever seen. Colors are incredibly vivid, while the picture has never looked as sharp as it does now. Since George Lucas is a firm believer in letting artists control how the public sees their work, sadly there isn't any trace of the original versions on the new prints (so Greedo still shoots first, though it's not as jarring as the Special Edition made it out to be). Mixed with Ben Burtt's new sound mix, the overall presentation is stunning and truly does justice to the films. Extra effects have been added as well, with a new Jabba to replace the initial CG one cut into A New Hope, and yes, that is Hayden Christensen added into the end of Jedi. Released exclusively as a collection in two separate editions, this set includes the recommended widescreen versions (a full-screen set is also available) and features anamorphic transfers with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX tracks. Menu design is particularly stellar, with three optional ones chosen at random for all the movie discs that can also be chosen by entering Menu, 2, or 12 on your remote during the Warning screen. Commentaries can be found on each movie, with everyone from George Lucas and Carrie Fisher to Empire's director, Irvin Kershner, and sound designer, Ben Burtt, sounding off. Burtt actually is a joy to listen to as he takes the viewer through his process of recording these iconic sounds, though the main prize goes to Kershner, who astounds with his grasp of the characters and the film itself. If Empire is thought to be the best-made film out of the trilogy, you can bet that he's the main reason for it.
Over ten hours of extras are included on the bonus disc, with newly created featurettes and archival material spanning the entire history of the original saga. The 151-minute extended cut of the documentary "Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy" is easily the most anticipated, and boy, it does not disappoint! Featuring countless interviews with cast and crew along with rare behind-the-scenes footage from the first three films, the story is told through time as Lucas battled to remain in control of the productions despite lawsuits and plenty of other obstacles that will come as quite a surprise to the casual viewer. You'll be glued to the screen, whether it's from glimpses of deleted scenes not included in the rest of the disc or just the sheer amount of mind-blowing behind-the-scenes footage (such as Peter Mayhew's voice saying Chewie lines, or how about David Prowse doing Vader's voice with a Scottish accent?). Three other featurettes make their debut in the set as well, including "The Birth of the Lightsaber," "The Characters of Star Wars," and "The Force Is With Them: The Legacy of Star Wars." Each short featurette is solid, with more amazing footage from the vault, while the last one features interviews from current directors Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, and others as they discuss how the original trilogy affected them.
Also on the bonus disc is what will be audiences' first look at Episode III in "The Return of Darth Vader" preview. Packed with footage of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen as they practice the final fight in the film, the ten-minute documentary cuts between that and the step-by-step process of sculpting and fabricating the new Vader costume. Sure it's a tease, but then again, this is the same marketing game that Lucas helped create, as you can see in the wall-to-wall production print galleries and packed sections of trailers and TV ads that are included. Extreme fans shouldn't expect everything, as only three trailers are attached to each film, thereby cutting a few memorable ones out of the pack. The photo galleries are another beast, with numerous shots of deleted scenes once again making their way onto the disc, but not in their film form. Indeed, despite additional promotional features that dive into future Star Wars games and some hilarious gag reels hidden within the bonus disc, it's not hard to see that Lucasfilm is still holding some stuff back. Still, fans should be quite used to buying multiple versions of these films by now, and these discs really are something special that should more than tide them over until the rumored six-movie set coming after Episode III. While many will be disappointed that the films couldn't be released in their original theatrical versions, this set will still be a nice package that most DVD customers will have a hard time turning down. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, All Movie Guide